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There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and garlic.” — Louis Diat

Home gardeners are always thinking of ways to improve their soil, whether growing vegetables or flowers. Unfortunately, we do not consider the demands placed on the soil.

Using cover crops is a time-tested practice to regenerate soil health between growing seasons. Exposed soil can degrade rapidly. It can dry and wash away, plants become less tolerant to drought and soil declines. Cover crops add nutrients, smother low growing fall weeds, add organic matter and provide aeration to heavy soils.

There are three types of cover crops: grains, legumes and broadleaf. Some are annual and some perennials.

Grains such an annual grasses, rye, oats and wheat have extensive root systems and aerate soil naturally, add organic material and nutrients and slow down movement of rain to prevent erosion.

Legumes like peas, soybeans, clover and vetch are known as nitrogen fixers. A good choice is to mix grains and legumes.

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Broadleaf like buckwheat, mustard and alyssum are a natural way to keep weeds from sprouting since they shade the soil. If you have a no-till garden, annual cover crops are a good choice since they provide mulch for next spring. If you till your soil, you may like to plant a mix of annual and perennial cover crops.

You may be surprised to know that alyssum may be planted in your vegetable beds around your transplants to prevent weeds. I also like to use an organic fertilizer such as Milorganite, which also adds organic material and nitrogen to the soil. It breaks down slowly so is beneficial all year long.

It is time to plant garlic for harvest come next July. Garlic needs to have the winter to produce large bulbs. I have only had to buy garlic to plant once in the 15 years I have been growing it. After harvest each year, I save the largest cloves to replant in October. This has been a great success. If dried properly, you can have garlic until next season when a fresh supply comes in. Garlic needs to dry with stems on for about one month. Never cut stems while still green, as bacteria will enter and rot the garlic. The same is true for onions. One clove of garlic could multiply 7-20 times depending on variety.

Hardened garlic produces an edible flower stalk called a scape. These scapes are delicious. They can be used in salads, pesto and stir-fry. They always need to be cut off the plant because you do not want garlic to flower.

Fresh garlic has a chemical called allicin that is the most beneficial active ingredients in garlic. Allicin’s effects are lost in garlic powder or jarred garlic. The benefits of garlic include reduced blood pressure, reduced hardening of arteries, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, high in antioxidants, fights viruses and a person who eats a lot of garlic repels ticks. If you let chopped or crushed garlic stand for 10-15 minutes, it boosts its enzyme action and retains these benefits when cooked.

Unable to take the Master Gardener certification classes but still interested in learning about gardening in Wisconsin? This year the public can attend any of the classes being offered through the program. Classes are held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday mornings at the West Square Building, 505 Broadway, Baraboo. The cost is $15 a class, cash or check only and you must register at least one week ahead of the time. To register, call 608-355-3250 or email haley.weisert@wisc.edu.

Contact Phyllis Both by email at Phyllis.both@saukcountywi.gov or by telephone on Monday mornings at the Sauk County UW-Extension office, 608-355-3253.

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